A few days before the Arizona Wildcats opened training camp, junior linebacker Keoni Bush-Loo hosted about 25 of his teammates for a late-afternoon feast.
The Ewa Beach, Hawaii, native and his girlfriend, Anela, prepared an multi-course meal that had something for everybody. Kalua pig, Bush-Loo’s favorite, headlined the menu. There was enough chicken long rice, potato salad and pizza to satisfy even the hungriest men on campus.
After a few hours of eating, listening to music and playing games in his backyard, Bush-Loo told his teammates to gather for a group photo.
But before posing, the linebacker shared some news with some of his closest friends.
“I got a glass and went ‘ting, ting, ting,’ hitting the glass and said I had an announcement for everyone,” Bush-Loo said. “It got real quiet and I said, ‘I just want to announce to everyone that me and my girlfriend are getting married.’
“You know, the house turned crazy,” a smiling Bush-Loo added. “Everybody started clapping and yelling. It was an awesome experience.”
Bush-Loo left out one important detail when he made his announcement: He and Anela were going to tie the knot right away.
The 20-year-old linebacker wed his girlfriend of three years on Aug. 1, one day before the team’s’ first practice. The couple had a small afternoon service in front of five family members at a local courthouse. It came just a couple of hours after Bush-Loo reported for his third camp as a member of the Wildcats.
“There wasn’t much of a honeymoon,” a laughing Bush-Loo said. “I came home at 10 p.m., and said, ‘Hi honey, goodnight. I have to get up early tomorrow.’ ”
Bush-Loo got a few hours of shuteye and then reported for team meetings and the UA’s first official practice of the season the following morning.
“I think that was a first for me: That someone got married during camp, and didn’t miss a meeting, didn’t miss a practice, and didn’t miss a meal,” coach Rich Rodriguez said. “His wife is an angel. I probably forgot about it once practice started, but when I announced it to the team after, he got a big cheer. They were excited for him. I’m proud of him.”
Bush-Loo said the timing was right. But the 6-foot-4-inch, 235-pound linebacker still has dreams of an elaborate proposal, a fancy wedding and an extravagant honeymoon.
“We’re going to renew our vows in a few years, and we want to make that very special,” Bush-Loo said. “For this time, we wanted to keep it small. We wanted it to be special obviously, but not too special, because we want to save that for when we renew. We want to save some bucks, get our first jobs, and after a few years of working up some money where we can start a family, we’ll renew the vows and have a big reception with everybody back at home.
“That’s our plan, but we wanted to get it done now.”
They are also planning on changing their last names from Bush-Loo to Kema-Kaleiwahea, the last name of the linebacker’s grandma.
They are in the process of going through a legal name change.
“I’m hoping they’re going to fit that on the back of my jersey, because if they don’t, my grandmother is going to call me, and she’s going to have a fit,” Bush-Loo said.
Whether it says “Bush-Loo” or “Kema-Kaleiwahea” on the back of his jersey, the linebacker is hoping it’s on the field more this season. A member of Rodriguez’s first recruiting class at the UA, Bush-Loo has played in 25 games for the UA the past two seasons, mostly as a reserve and special teams contributor.
He has 10 tackles in his career, and picked up his first-ever sack last season.
So far this fall, he’s spent some time with the first-team defense at one of the outside linebacker spots and is a candidate to be a full-time starter after a solid summer in the weight room.
“He’s really grown up and matured,” Rodriguez said. “He’s a hard worker and has some pretty good strength to him.”
Bush-Loo continues to refine his fundamentals. He came to the UA as a tight end and moved to defense after 13 days of his first fall camp.
Because of the position change and a couple of requests from teammates, the linebacker has worn five different numbers — 3, 14, 36, 40 and now 44 — in his two-plus years with the Wildcats.
If his strong start in camp is any indication, the new number is working. But he’s not getting too excited about working with the starters — yet.
“This year is the best group of linebackers I’ve worked with,” Bush-Loo said. “Everyone pushes each other everyday. No one has a starting spot. You could have it one day and then lose it the next day because someone is working harder than you.
“I’m ready to work as hard as I possibly can.”
For himself, and his new wife.
• Anthem Boulder Creek High offensive lineman Nathan Eldridge committed to the UA on Saturday night.
Some schools were recruiting Eldridge as a defensive tackle, but the UA plans to use him on the interior of the line, most likely at center.
He’s rated as a three-star recruit by the Scout.com recruiting service.
Eldridge is the fifth offensive lineman of the class.